Plainfield Connecticut Manufacturing History

During the early years of the present century, manufacturing interests began to develop in Plainfield, and through their influence the town has maintained its position and growth with a healthy degree of progress. About the year 1807 several manufacturing companies embarked in the enterprise of establishing cotton spinning upon the streams of this town. The American Cotton Manufacturing Company was composed of Thomas Rhodes of Providence, Peter B. Remington of Warwick, Messrs. Holden & Lawton of Rehoboth, and Obed Brown, Dyer Ames and others of Sterling. This company secured a privilege near Ransom Perkins’ fulling mill on Quandunk River.” The Plainfield Union Manufacturing Company was organized for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture of cotton, and bought valuable privileges and land on the Moosup. This company was composed of Rufus Waterman, S. G. Arnold, Joseph S. Martin, David and Joseph Anthony, of Providence; Peter Cushman, of North Providence; David King, of Newport; and Anthony Bradford, Henry Dow, John Dunlap, Walter Palmer, Christopher Deane, Jonathan Gallup, Joseph Parkhurst, Edward Hill, John Lester, Jeremiah Kinsman, James Gordon, Jr., Nathaniel Medbury, James Goff, John Freeman, Elias Deane and Edward Clark, of Plainfield; and Calvin Hibbard and Lemuel Dorrance, of Sterling. Joseph K. Angell, with Nathan Burgess, Humphrey Almy and other non-residents, arranged to occupy the privilege long owned by Nathan Angell, under the name of the Moosup Manufacturing Company. The Plainfield Union Company was ready for work in 1809, and the others within a year or two from that time. The Andrus Factory Company. composed of Abel and Benjamin Andrus, Thomas and Andrew Gibbs, Levi Robinson and Joseph Hutchins, of Plainfield; Charles Townsend, of Norwich; Titus Adams, John Baldwin and Joseph Farnham, of Canterbury, began operations in 1811. They bought land in Plainfield and Canterbury, on the brook south of the grist mill, and put up a small mill, thus beginning the settlement which has since been known as Packerville. Adjoining residents in both towns were much interested in this manufacturing experiment, and freely gave their aid in clearing up land and digging the cellar. Woolen factories were also set in motion in the town by Darius Lawton, of Newport, and Joseph Eaton. Carding machines and fulling mills were run by John Kennedy and others. Mr. John Lester and Doctor Fuller engaged largely in wool raising. The period of depression in the manufacturing industry which followed the war of 1812 occasioned much embarrassment in Plainfield. Several companies were obliged to suspend operations, and many changes took place. The Moosup Company lost its factory by fire, and the company was dissolved. The Central Manufacturing Company in 1827 passed into the hands of Richard and Arnold Fenner, of Cumberland, and Holden Borden, of Smithfield. Buildings, machinery, privileges of land and water, occupied in woolen manufacture by Joseph Eaton, Darius Lawton and company, in 1826 fell into the hands of a Rhode Island Quaker, William Almy. A large new factory building was erected the following year, improved machinery introduced. tenement houses built, adjoining land purchased and brought under cultivation, and soon one of the largest woolen manufacturers in Connecticut was under full headway. Another smaller factory, eastward on the Moosup, was built and run by Joseph S. Gladding. The Union Factory, owned mostly in Plainfield, was also flourishing, Henry A. Rogers acting as its agent in Providence. Four little manufacturing villages, known as Almyville, Unionville, Centreville and Packerville, were thus growing up in the town. All were managed by good men, ready to promote order and improvement. The first was made the charge of Sampson Almy, nephew of its chief proprietor. A small settlement also grew up around Kennedy’s mill, near the mouth of the Moosup.

Public improvements in the way of traveling facilities were imperative and the demand was promptly met by the early settlers of the town. In 1705 the town directed a committee to lay out leading ways into the General Field and a way to Canterbury. A road was also marked out from the mill which had been built on Mill brook to the north part of the town. A highway six rods wide was laid out from the Preston line to the north bounds of the town, with two crossings at Moosup’s river. A highway was laid out from this road, through the General ‘Field, between John Spalding’s and Thomas Pierce’s and “so over the brook on the westside of Moosup’s hill to Moosup’s river and so down the river.” The people felt the need of more convenient highways and bridges over the Quinebaug, fording places being at first used, but this practice was dangerous and sometimes impossible when the river ran high. The town was too young and unsettled to cope with the task of bridge building, but a bridge was built, probably by private contributions, in 1709. By direction of the assembly this town was required to lay out a road through its territory to meet the road which Rhode Island had ordered to be laid out from Providence to this town. The enactment -was made in October, 1712. The assembly directed the selectmen of Plainfield to continue the road eastward beyond the town bounds to the point where it was to meet the road from Rhode Island. This part of the road through territory as yet unoccupied by any town was to be paid for by the government. In crossing this town the road ran through the lands of Joshua Whitney, Benjamin Spalding, Nathaniel Jewell, Daniel Lawrence, John Hall and John Smith, all of whom gave the right of way free of charge. The road was laid out four rods wide, and in some parts of Egunk hill this was increased to eight rods for the convenience of loaded carts. The road was completed and opened for use in 1714, the colony paying the cost of a bridge over the Moosup which lay on the road just beyond the east bounds of the town. The bridge which had been built over the Quinebaug was carried away by a freshet after it had been there but a few years. Following this, Samuel Shepard, who lived on the public road near a convenient place for crossing, provided a ferry boat large enough to carry a horse and a man over. In order to compensate him for the outlay he had made, the assembly in May, 1772, allowed him “to keep said ferry for the space of five years next coming; and the fees thereof are stated to be fourpence for horse and man.” No other public ferry was allowed between the towns, and Shepard was to keep suitable boats for the purpose and attend to its service.

The following petition tells so much of its own story, and also gives so much of incidental information concerning the river and the enterprise of bridging it, that we insert it entire

” To the general assembly sitting in Hartford. May 9, 1728. The petition of the subscribers showeth to your Honors, the many attempts that have been made by many of the inhabitants of the towns of Plainfield and Canterbury for the making a good and sufficient cart-bridge over the river Quinebaug, between said towns; it being so extraordinarily difficult and hazardous, for near half the year almost every year, and many travelers have escaped of their lives to admiration. The same river can’t be paralleled in this Colony. It descends near fifty or sixty miles, out of the wilderness, and many other rivers entering into it, cause it to be extremely furious and hazardous. And also the road through said towns, over said river, being as great as almost any road in the Government, for travelers. And now your petitioners, with the encouragement of divers persons (;_C98 Es.) have assumed to build a good cart-bridge, twenty-seven feet high from the bottom of said river-which is four feet higher than any flood known these thirty years-and sixteen and a half rods long; have carefully kept account of the cost, beside trouble which is great (cost amounting to /424), and ask for a grant of ungranted lands.”

The assembly ordered, That said bridge be kept a toll-bridge for ten years, receiving for each man, horse and load, fourpence: single man, twopence; each horse and all neat cattle, twopence per head; sheep and swine, two shillings per score; always provided, that those who have contributed toward said bridge be free till reimbursed what they have paid.” Two years later, on account of the great expense incurred in building this bridge, it was further resolved, That no person shall keep any boat or ferry on said Quinebaug river for the transportation of travelers within one mile of said bridge, on the penalty of the law.”

A bridge over Moosup river, by Kingsbury’s mill, was built by Samuel. Spalding in 1729. In 1737 a committee was appointed to act in conjunction with Canterbury in rebuilding the broken down bridge between the two towns. Canterbury preferring to build a new one rather than repair the damaged one, Plainfield ordered a new road laid out to reach the new site, which was nearly opposite to Captain Butts’ place. William Deane was granted permission to make a dam across Moosup river about 1716, for the purpose of setting up mills near his house. A bridge over this stream on the road to Deane’s house and mill was built by the town in 1740.

In 1767 the bridge over the Quinebaug was again swept away by a freshet. Widow Williams saved twenty of the planks, by heroic efforts, and the town voted her a reward for the action. The bridge was at once rebuilt and men appointed to have the care of it and cut away ice when it formed upon the abutments. This bridge being situated on a great thoroughfare of intercolonial travel, was at that time a very important one. Special orders relative to the-renewal and maintenance of this road were from time to time made by the governments of Connecticut and Rhode Island. A road laid out from this highway to Butts’ bridge accommodated -Norwich travel. In 1784 the town voted to join with Brooklyn in building a bridge over the Quinebaug at Parkhurst’s fordway. The work was delayed several years, but was accomplished in 1790. In 1788 the town joined Canterbury in rebuilding Nevins’ bridge, “with three stone pillars in the river and suitable timber and planks for the upper works.”

Turnpike companies began to come into existence about the close of the last century. In 1795 the “New London and Windham County Society for establishing a turnpike road from Norwich to Rhode Island line, direct through Norwich, Lisbon, Preston, Plainfield and Sterling,” was incorporated. A toll-gate was allowed in Sterling, and another “within half a mile of Plainfield meeting house.” The old traveled country road from Plainfield meeting house westward to Hartford was turned over to the Windham Turnpike Company in 1799, and liberty granted to erect a toll-gate near the dividing line between Plainfield and Canterbury. General James Gordon was a member of several turnpike companies and served as turnpike commissioner of the state.

Highway districts were remodelled in 1808. The record locates them as-No. 1, Southwest; No. 2, Middle District, with three bridges, including bridge over west turnpike by tan vats; No. 3, North meeting house, begins at the Great Gate; No. 4, Green Hollow, extending north to Killingly line on the road to Elder Cole’s meeting house; No. 5, Shepard Hill; No. 6, Moosup, extends north by Hartshorn’s mills; No. 7, Black Hill, includes Nevins’ and Cutler’s bridges; No. 8, Pond Hill, extending to Sterling line; No. 8, Snake Meadow, north to Killingly line; No. 10, Mill Road; No. 11, Goshen; No. 12, Walnut Hill; No. 13, Kinne Road; No. 14, Howe Hill; No. 15, Dow Road; No. 16, Spring Hill; Nos. 17 and 18, East and West Flat Rock. Roads were laid out near Union Factory, and from the Andrus Factory over Butts’ bridge, but a road was refused from the latter factory to Plainfield village on the ground that there was no house on the way and never would be. In 1818 a committee was appointed to join with Canterbury in a conference about building a bridge between the two towns, the selectmen meanwhile being authorized to establish a means of crossing by a boat. They were also called upon to join with Brooklyn in providing for bridge repairs between the two towns. Bridges over Moosup river were also replaced.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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